John C Reilly: five best moments

Hollywood’s most reliable character actor, currently looking for love under duress in dystopian dating satire The Lobster, brings humanity to both drama and comedy

For arguably too long, John C Reilly was simply known as “that guy from that thing” but my, what a lot of things that guy was in. After smaller roles in Paul Thomas Anderson’s earlier films, he became a dramatic lead and then a skilled comedian, giving us all great difficulty when trying to define exactly what he is.

This week, he’s combining his knack for the serious and the silly in the fascinatingly oddball black comedy The Lobster, as a singleton forced to find a mate or risk being turned into an animal. Here are his greatest moments.

Hard Eight

Reilly’s first major role came courtesy of first-time director Paul Thomas Anderson who entrusted him with selling his neo-noir drama ahead of a cast that included Gwyneth Paltrow and Samuel L Jackson. As a Reno gambler who marries a part-time prostitute, it played to his strengths for humanising the loser archetype.


Reilly’s skill for playing hopeless optimists was utilised by Anderson with heartbreaking success in the Oscar-nominated 1999 ensemble drama. As a committed cop who becomes an unlikely romantic hero, he’s arguably the best piece of a carefully constructed puzzle.

The Good Girl

An important film for star Jennifer Aniston, showcasing a depth previously untapped, this quietly impactful comedy drama about small town disappointment also allowed Reilly to shine as her misunderstood husband. Oafish at times but ultimately just as trapped as his wife, his understated performance moved casually from funny to poignant.

Step Brothers

While his knack for smaller, usually tragi-, comic moments had already been on display, we were yet to see Reilly’s ability to go full rofl. During the late 00s, it was highlighted, underlined and italicised in Talladega Nights, Walk Hard and opposite Will Ferrell again in this endlessly quoted comedy. As a petulant man-child, Reilly was easily Ferrell’s equal and the pair’s immaturity led to a staggeringly silly string of set-pieces.


The premise of this Duplass brothers-directed comedy is pure sitcom: man meets woman, man then meets woman’s unhinged son, lols ensue. But the end result is a surprisingly heartfelt and convincingly played film which is never less than toally convincing. It also blesses Reilly with one of his warmest performances as a man growing up after a painful divorce. His chemistry with co-star Marisa Tomei made for an unlikely yet believable pairing.


Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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